Centre Left v Far Right of Centre
If ever there was an example of the complete chaos into which the coalition Government is spiralling the announcement by Danny Alexander MP (Liberal Democrat) Chief Secretary to the Treasury in the House of Commons that an agreement had been reached which was a declaration of victory over the Trade Unions is a classic.
Within 24 hours of the announcement, made with the cheers of the coalition benches ringing in his ears we had the trade unions coming out saying that an agreement was not on the cards because of an intervention by that bastion of the far right, Eric Pickles MP the Communities and Local Government Minister who is accused of having changed the agreement without any consultation with not only the Trade Unions but also without the knowledge of his colleagues in the Cabinet which had infuriated the treasury officials.
Step forward the Government spin doctors who immediately, or at least within a few hours had issued a statement that the letter and changes had been withdrawn by the opulent Mr Pickles and a new one would be issued – of course Mr Pickles denied that the letter had been retracted and that talks were going to take place with the trade unions to ‘sort out the confusion’.
Of course the trade unions know nothing about the talks Mr Pickles is talking about.
No wonder there is confusion and it is the confusion of ‘who an earth is leading on the talks with the public sector union representatives’?
Is it the treasury who continue, despite the evidence demonstrating the opposite, that there’s insufficient money in the public service pension pot to pay out pensions in the future or is it the minister for local government who relishes the thought of having a fight with unions to reduce local government to a level of impotence whilst at the same time claiming he and he alone is the great architect of localism and handing the power back to local people.
What was noticeable was the complete absence of George Osborne the Chancellor of the Exchequer no doubt recognising that it was a mess with which he did not want to be associated.
I actually met George Osborne in 2010 when he visited Northampton and found him pleasant and fully aware that if and as it turned out he got the job he now has it would be difficult.
He also acknowledged that whoever won the 2010 election it would be difficult to balance the books but that it would have to be done whilst protecting front line services, something that seems very much to have gone by the board.
Eric Pickles is not so pleasant and who appears determined to make a name for himself as the man who broke Local Government, which is strange when you consider that he was once the Leader of Bradford City Council.
There is no doubt and everyone agrees that local government has to make a contribution to the solving of the economic balance of payment and debt problems facing the country, the major problem is that Eric Pickles seems determined as do his supporters and acolytes to make local government a main contributor at the expense of local people who by seeing cuts in their essential front line services are in reality paying the same level of taxes for less and less.
It is certainly the case in Northampton that the new Leader of the Borough Council Cllr Mackintosh who has always acknowledged that he is a very close friend, admirer and confidant of Mr Pickles has embarked on a series of policies that will lead the council to a position where more and more people will be told NO on more and more occasions as the cuts to services start to bite in the coming year.
The public and taxpayers of Northampton will in fact be hit not by a double but triple whammy when the Borough Council cuts are taken alongside the cuts by Central Government and the swingeing cuts made by the Northamptonshire County Council.
Christmas 2011 is certainly not one of great cheer to the 2.6 million people who find themselves unemployed affecting more that 5 million people when you take their families into account, and 2012 is going to be far from a prosperous New Year with the number of people facing unemployment forecast to increase by more than another 1 million people.
The confusion over consultation with the public sector unions highlights a very serious problem not only in Westminster but across the whole of the UK, that of how do you negotiate with people who start from the position of ‘this is our only offer, and we know we are right’ and who are not only prepared but actually driven above all else by their own arrogant self belief and self-interest.
We can see this by the ever decreasing number of councillors and MP’s who are allowed to speak to the media whether making announcements, on policy or in responding to the opposition.
As George Orwell’s 1984 only one message is permitted to be stated and heard so we are more and more subjected to hearing one voice, one message and all other democratically elected councillors are told increasingly don’t rock the boat , keep silent and vote as you are told which to date they have been prepared to do.
It is why the coalition is failing, the message from the Liberal Democrats and desire to be the voice that gives the message such as, Nick Clegg, Danny Alexander, Chris Hulme, are in a contest with the ambitious heavyweight Conservative voices of, Eric Pickles, David Cameron, Michael Grove and Theresa May and is a prime reason why so many back benchers are now at each other throats.
As 2012 progresses we will see an increase in the number of back bench MP’s and Local Councillors start as elected representatives to openly oppose the leaderships iron control as they see their chances of future electoral success fade.
What is sad is that the opposition from within the coalition Liberal Democrat and Conservative groups won’t be about the impact and hardship of economic decisions taken on working people but because of the fear that it is impacting on the very people they need to vote to send them back to whichever Council they have ambitions of being elected to.
The first test in Northampton will be the County Council election in May 2013 which undoubtedly will be an opportunity to send a very clear message to Westminster and locally about what kind of future the people want for themselves and their children.
If the Government and Local Authorities don’t start to listen to the trade unions, employees and the people then they and we will all be faced by further disruption and industrial action and it will be the fault of those who have made it clear that they are simply not prepared to support or have meaningful discussions with the employee’s representatives.
Discussion and consultation not demonization and confrontation is the way forward for both sides, unfortunately the far right now seem to prefer the latter.